Iowa opened spring practice today, and head coach Kirk Ferentz met with reporters to preview the next few weeks.
A few takeaways from Ferentz's news conference and Iowa's spring two-deep:
Health update: safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood will miss spring ball following shoulder surgeries; running back Adam Robinson also will sit out following shoulder surgery; linemen Steve Bigach (knee) and Kyle Haganman (shoulder) also are out following surgeries. Running back Jewel Hampton (knee) has been cleared to practice this spring and will be involved in some contact drills (won't be tackled). Wide receiver Paul Chaney Jr. (knee) will be very limited in spring ball but should be back to full strength by June. Defensive end Dominic Alvis (groin) will be very limited. Nolan MacMillan could be in the mix at offensive line, but he's still working back from sports hernia surgery.
Not surprisingly, Ferentz fielded several questions about the offensive line, which loses four players who started part or all of last season. Iowa's spring depth chart shows the starting offense line as Riley Reiff at left tackle, Julian Vandervelde at left guard, Josh Koeppel or James Ferentz at center, Adam Gettis at right guard and Markus Zusevics at right tackle. But don't read into that too much, as Ferentz likened filling out the first string, after Reiff and Vandervelde, to throwing darts or flipping coins. "We probably have eight or nine guys competing for the top spots," Ferentz said. "We have a lot of guys on pretty equal footing as far as the competition goes."
As expected, Shaun Prater is listed as the starter at right cornerback, while Micah Hyde appears as the starter at left corner ahead of both William Lowe and Jordan Bernstine, who comes back from an ankle injury that sidelined him all of last season. Amari Spievey was a huge loss, and it will be interesting to see who steps in for him.
Ferentz gave a very Ferentz-like answer when asked about the expectations Iowa will face heading into 2010. "We have some very good players back and that will drive expectations," he said. "Preseason polls are a lot like recruiting rankings. They are all speculative. Recruiting rankings are based on what guys did in high school, which is the only way you can rank them. I think preseason rankings are based on your experience level, your success level and then maybe the name of your school, too. So those three things factor in. ... Outside of maybe the name-brand schools, the preseason polls are usually not real accurate."
Ferentz called the competition at kicker wide open between Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker. "We can do better at that position," he said.
Ferentz praised the development of linebackers Jeff Tarpinian, Troy Johnson and Tyler Nielsen, who will compete for the two vacant starting spots alongside Jeremiha Hunter. "Quite frankly I'm almost more worried about a year from now at our linebacker spot," he said. "Sounds kind of funny, our two pretty good seniors graduating, but we are top heavy age-wise."
Ferentz is optimistic about the competition at running backs and would like to have three healthy options on game days this fall.
The coach also gave an update on his NCAA tournament bracket, which, like many of ours, is busted. One of his daughters, meanwhile, picked Northern Iowa's upset of Kansas. "She knows nothing about basketball," Ferentz said. "Her other picks were -- she was leading after the first two days. I guess she's still leading. She's beating the president, right now, on her brackets. Whatever. Mine are awful."